Russia’s Tinkoff Bank rebrands, severs final ties to exiled critic Tinkov

The online bank, which boasts over 43 million customers across Russia, said the name change to the simpler “T-Bank” moniker was a logical step to streamline its brand identity for both employees and clients.

Russia’s third-largest lender Tinkoff Bank officially rebranded as “T-Bank” on Wednesday, marking its final separation from Oleg Tinkov after he was exiled and hit with sanctions over blistering criticism of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The online bank, which boasts over 43 million customers across Russia, said the name change to the simpler T-Bank moniker was a logical step to streamline its brand identity for both employees and clients. However, the move also bears obvious overtones of distancing itself from any lingering associations with the billionaire Tinkov.

Tinkov founded the pioneering digital bank in 2006, building it into a fintech powerhouse challenging state-owned behemoths like Sberbank. But his fortunes shifted dramatically in the wake of Moscow’s all-out assault on Ukraine in February 2022.

The entrepreneur, who had taken up residency in Britain, launched a profanity-laced video in April of that year condemning Russia’s war. The withering critique prompted the Kremlin to reportedly pressure Tinkov into selling his remaining 35% stake in the bank’s parent company for a paltry sum.

After renouncing his Russian citizenship in November, Moscow then designated Tinkov as a foreign agent earlier this year, essentially rendering him a non-person within Russia itself. He currently faces two criminal cases back home, including for his anti-war statements.

In many ways, the T-Bank rebranding move appeared inevitable. The lender had already announced plans to alter its name shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion amid the growing toxicity surrounding Tinkov’s image. Current CEO Stanislav Bliznyuk explicitly linked the final name change to the founder’s status.

Bliznyuk added that T-Bank customers would experience no disruptions and all products and services would continue unchanged under the new branding. However, the makeover formalizes Tinkov’s severance after his brash criticism transformed him from a nationally admired entrepreneurial icon into a despised anti-Putin pariah virtually overnight.

For Russia’s beleaguered private sector, already facing unprecedented economic turmoil from Western sanctions over Ukraine, the Tinkov saga serves as a sobering case study of the immense personal and professional risks of running afoul of the Kremlin at a moment of extreme nationalism. Those who dare speak truth to power, no matter their wealth or stature, increasingly find themselves exiled, silenced or worse.